Paperback: The Book of Life, edited by Eve Claxton

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The Independent Culture

It's a shame that the editor of this generous and teeming collection of memoirs gives away each writer's name at the start of their extract; it would be fun to guess-the-author, as unique voices such as Wole Soyinka ("I wondered if it was going to be possible to squeeze the blood out of the dansiki and back into the gash... beneath my hair") and Alan Bennett ("life was not going to live up to literature") rub shoulders. Some, such as Nabokov, show the influence of beginnings: "My earliest impressions... led the way to a veritable Eden of visual and tactile sensations". Endings ("When you are in your middle seventies you have passed your peak as a cat-catcher", PG Wodehouse) are just as varied.

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